Posts Tagged ‘family’

The gift of a child

I’m just back from a week at home.

Christmas has previously been one of the hardest times of year for me as despite my dad’s current sobriety, of which I am very proud, much of our family gatherings still seem to revolve around alcohol, who’s drinking it, who’s not and why, and an unhealthy dose of finger-pointing. At home, I feel blurred at the edges, out of focus, faded. I’m not myself. It sucks something out of me.

This year however, was so much better than I expected. My older sister (who is working in Australia at the moment) brought over both her current partner, and his six year old daughter, to meet us. Different? Yes, you bet. This child seemed to realign everything, she seemed to shift the focus from the tangled adults, back to her own needs and place in the family. I love children and spent a lot of time with her, convenient for the boyfriend as he was so jetlagged, and my sister who isn’t that maternal.  I already love her. One little Australian girl in a fairy outfit, singing ‘six white boomers’ (officially the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen) refocussed our entire family from anger and disputes, to something altogether kinder. It also gave me something to focus on rather than revision, or medication side effects, or depression so was a blessing in more ways than one.

I think we were more cemented than we’ve been for years. It was the first Christmas day where no one cried, or collapsed, or felt dangerously wooden. It was the first Christmas day where I felt as though there could be a hope for me and my dysfunctional family. It was the first week I’ve had at home in years, where I was a little sad to go.

Here’s a photo of me and my almost-niece:

Of course, this all reminded me of the child who really did change everything for us; as my family are pretty anti-religion, my faith can get a bit drowned out at Christmas; Jesus doesn’t come into this time of year anymore than he does any other period, so I am left trying to keep my mind focussed on what the holiday means, whilst surrounded by a more consumer driven approach. This is my third Christmas as a Christian, and in many ways, the most stable. The first one, when I was just a month into faith, was a pretty confusing time. Last year, I was sick on my first trial of medication and so depressed I thought it was going to be my last Christmas. This year, I am finally more stable on medication, sleeping better, feeling a bit better, and crucially, my faith is still strong, and as always, I think of that baby in a manger and am amazed by the promise he was delivering. I think of the nativity story, and as always, am amazed that most of the people guided to the birth of Christ were pretty run-of-the-mill, normal people; what hope it gives me, as a run-of-the-mill person, that I can also follow on.

I’ll be writing the obligatory new year post at some point in the next few days but in the meantime, I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and wish you every blessing for the coming year.

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I’ve got a few posts kicking around in my head but thought I’d start with a more personal, less gungo-ho theology one for now. I headed home for a visit this weekend as it’s unlikely I’ll be back before Christmas, to collect my winter coat and check in with my parents and brother. It’s been a really busy week on my attachment, with a lot of 12 hour days without breaks- but also really good and I’ve learned a lot, and have got to scrub in on a lot of surgeries too, which is always fun – but I was pretty knackered by the time I was on the four hour journey South.

Home as always, is strange. There is so much that my family don’t know about me, that sometimes it really does feel like I’m playing to the crowds, and after a fairly painful discussion about family stuff in counselling last week (is it ever, not painful?), I was dreading it and feeling pretty vulnerable. On Friday night once everyone had gone to bed, I was in my childhood bedroom, looking out at the night sky from a darkened room, as I did so often when I was younger, wondering how it was that the sky was so peaceful, when inside our walls, everything was chaotically falling to pieces. I feel so empty, so two-dimensional, when I am here. My old room in many ways is a catalogue of who I was – the list of grades needed for every medical school in the UK, which I pinned up three years in advance to spur me on, is still there, and now, a year from qualifying, it’s odd to look and realise that I’m so close to my childhood dream. The photos of the first learning disabilities respite camp I worked, age 16, are still there – and I’m still involved with similar things. The stack of thank-you cards from the Brownie unit I helped to lead, and used as an escape, is still there. The photos from the sixthform ball, me awkward in a balldress and heels, are there, despite the fact that the evening ended in tears when I ended up, as usual, being the ‘responsible’ one calling the parents of people who drank too much and were sick in the floor, further fuelling a complete fear of alcohol that would tar the future years with uncertainty and mistrust. The books on the shelf suggest that even then, I was painfully searching for answers, something to explain what I was seeing and thinking and feeling, something to help me get over and get through. Jostein Gaarder, my fifteen-year-old self owes you a debt. My old room almost feels as though it’s in mourning for something I can’t quite place.  Being back reminds me of how much I hated those last years at home, of how desperate I was, for such a long time. It reminds me of how young, and vulnerable, and afraid I was, how lost and alone and bruised, I was and to some extent, still am.

It’s pretty much five years to the day since I moved up to University and every year around this time, I think back to what that meant. For me, the thought of escaping and starting over, was intoxicating. I’d been ticking off the months till I was predicted to leave, for three years. I couldn’t wait to get away from it and find people ‘like me’ who wanted to change the world and change it whilst sober. The reality was a little different; my first week in medical school landed me in a horrific tutorial on alcoholism met with (probably fairly typical) bad attitudes from the other students and I literally was like a rabbit in the headlights, running away, so needing to find somewhere, anywhere, that alcohol and its damage couldn’t get me. I was so upset I ended up catching the first train I could, regardless of destination, and spent a day wandering around a city I didn’t know, just trying to get some peace and sort my head out before realising that I was truly on my own, not knowing anyone, and that I had no choice but to pull myself together and head back. I returned, headed out with a group from my halls, and churlishly drank more than I ever had (not hard, as I’d not really touched it at all before then), and ever will, to try and push through. If you can’t beat them, join them, after all. It was awful. My medical career did not get off to a sparkling start. Fortunately, it got better.

Now, I am five years on, stronger, older, wiser, though often, it doesn’t really seem that way. I don’t want the next decade to be as hard as this one has been. I don’t want to lose more time. I don’t want to still feel so caught and tethered by the things that bring me down. At twenty-three, there is still plenty of room for life to throw things at me that will knock and hurt me; if I’m going to manage, I want to be free of the weights my family life hung about my shoulders. Going home still wears me down and makes me feel fainter about the edges, as though if I’m not careful, I’ll fade into the wallpaper and cease to exist. It still makes me feel masked and costumed, concealed and false. When I was eighteen, the thought of being stuck in a room talking about my issues scared the daylights out of me. It still does, but I do it.I’m learning. I just hope that I’m learning enough.

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It’s not been a good day. I was in clinic this morning and was already feeling cross as the junior doctor I was sitting in with didn’t seem to think it was important to tackle the fact that one of the patients was drinking 16 units a day, and had what his GP called ‘unexplained stomach trouble’. You don’t need a medical degree to join the dots, sometimes. It needed sorting out. It’s tough, asking about drinking, especially as ‘problem drinkers’ don’t exactly respond well – but at the end of the day, it’s in the job description. Sort. It. Out.

At lunchtime my current hospital had a talk scheduled from.  one of the mid-grade doctors who was speaking on ‘how health professionals can stay healthy’. Most of it centred on his battle with dependancy on alcohol, prescription opiates, and non-prescription drugs. Let me be clear that I’m so impressed that he’s now off everything, giving back to the abstinence programme he went through, getting his career on track, and is brave enough to stand up and say what he did in front of colleagues – it’s brilliant.

However, what is not brilliant is being taken aside at the end and told I didn’t look as though I was engaging with his talk, and was it because I have the mistaken view that addiction is not a disease, and certainly not one doctors get? Because, you know, it could happen to me too….

Excuse me, for getting angry when he said that although he has not used since the birth of his son, that his son is not why he abstains – his own self-love, is. Excuse me for not wanting to look in depth at his AA keyrings (which are given at certain time points of abstinence – a month/two months etc) when I’ve seen my dad come back with them enough times, and when he falls off the wagon, start over. Those keyrings represent a lot of achievement, but they also represent a family who are waiting on eggshells for someone to start again, at the beginning, and plunge everything back to uncertainty. They represent months of children being neglected as they are less important than sobriety, which is  just one more thing they love more that you.

I’m sorry, but I believe that when you chose to bring a child into this world and raise them, they should be your first priority. Call me an idealist, call me old fashioned, but if you don’t want to do that, give that child to someone who will. Parents should be staying sober for them, over themselves. They should be protecting them. My father loved his whiskey more than he loved us. My mother loved our reputation as a clean living, achieving family, more than she loved us. Yes, you get sober – but the first reason should be for your children and spouse, who’s lives you have turned upside down. Otherwise, you’re just chosing yourself again, as always. This doctor said he stayed sober for himself, not his young son. I have an issue with that.

I know that substance use, misuse and dependancy is something I struggle with, and I have worked to tackle this head on by doing placements, projects and assignments within the field of substance misuse medicine. I do not bury my head in the sand. I tackle my issues head on. Sometimes I learn a valuable lesson. Other times, like today, I get completely incinerated. I don’t need some evangelist for recovery telling me about the difficulties he’s had; I’ve seen it. I’ve come through it. I remember it, every time I see someone drink more than they should, every time I have a sip of wine, and every time I don’t, because I know that it will be too much, too painful for me. Coming off alcohol and other drugs is so difficult. I have a lot of respect for those who manage it, including my dad, and I will correct anyone who claims otherwise, who claims that it’s just a weakness of will, and that  people chose a life of dependancy. Just don’t expect me to congratulate anyone for sorting their life out and leaving their family in the lurch. My dad is sober at the moment, yet I am in recovery from depression not entirely unconnected to his prior habits and am still tethered to counselling. His drinking has left me scarred and scared. His addiction has painted me black, too. It, among with other things along the way, broke me and I still don’t know if I’ll ever achieve that elusive ‘wholeness’. I don’t know if I’ll ever stop bleeding out and hurting. The effects don’t stop when someone puts down a glass for the (yet another) final time. The damage grows and continues. It continues to infect and supporates in quiet corners, in quiet people.

So – I’m feeling pretty fragile today. Strangely enough, this time I didn’t seek it out, the pain just found me. It’s never far away. I know that recovery from depression is a tale of hills and valleys, a trail that we follow for months – but I was hoping for just a few more days in a row without crying. I was hoping for a few less reasons to feel that once again, I just can’t handle parts of this world we’re in. I’m trapped again. I hate that out of nowhere, my issues with drinking spring up and crowd me out. I was upset enough that I left the ward early. I never do that. It got the better of me. It beat me. I can’t, can never, let it beat me.

The odd thing is that the other day, I was back in counselling after a month off and we were talking about drinking, and L (counsellor) asked if I would seek a medical specialty that didn’t have a large number of patients with substance issues – and I said, and stick by it, that although I wouldn’t dedicate myself to it, I want to be part of the solution to this. I want to give something positive back. I want to help people get clean. I want to stop the cycles and the sickness that flows through families. I will not bury my head in the sand. I tackle my issues head on.

Today, though, it was a bit much and I could do with a hug but am home alone.

God, how long is this going to be too much? How long?

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I’m back from home now and have a week until I start my final year of medical school. I know it’s going to take me a while to bounce back, as it always does, so have been thinking about how to get through the next few days. I’m feeling a bit numbed to everything, a bit crowded out, and have a feeling it’s going to be a tough session. There were some good things last week, as I caught up with my oldest friend, who, after thirteen years, is more of a sister, and also a male friend I was very close to (read: desperately but sadly unrequitedly in love with) in my last few years of school – they were both really encouraging, and it was good to talk about stuff with people who have known me since childhood. I love them both a lot.

I was back in counselling again this afternoon and am feeling pretty frustrated. L and I talked a bit about this week and family stuff in general and at one point, she asked who had supported me when my dad was drinking when I was younger, who I turned to and talked to, and all I could say, was, ‘no-one’. Until my ill-fated first encounter with a counsellor in my second year of medical school, I hadn’t really told a soul. I’d done it alone. I was too afraid to tell anyone, too ashamed. I’ve never really thought about it – aside from wanting to help make sure that other kids don’t go through that, some how. And it wasn’t the answer I gave that hurt, or the realisation I get now that I wasn’t that old to be handling as much family stuff as I was, or the sadness I sometimes get now, that my family aren’t the supportive group I’d like them to be, who accept me, warts and all, through thick and thin – it was the look of intense pity on L’s face that really broke me. I don’t want pity, I don’t want any of the ‘poor little you’ comments, or that look on someone’s face that suddenly makes you realise that things were pretty crap to be honest, a lot crapper than most people’s time growing up was, that look that cements what you’ve suspected for so long, that somewhere inbetween the birthdays and holidays, as you grew taller and older, you were broken and damaged by the world around you, in a way most people manage to escape.

Sometimes you have that moment where you just know, that you’ll remember that slice of time forever, and that’s how her look made me feel earlier, as though it’s burned in, branded into my memories. I keep waiting for things to get easier, to find some release from all this, for counselling to start to heal all those wounds that have become such a part of me, and it’s yet to happen. I know I feel raw, at the moment, and tired of it; I know I feel as though I’ll never get through this, that my wounds will always be open, that my heart will always be covered in a layer of dust, cast in shadows (aware this is slightly hyperbolic – sorry, may edit later). I’m feeling like a bit of a hopeless case at the moment – that I’ll be someone who always gets through on paper, most likely very well – but that behind closed doors, I’ll always be falling apart, I’ll always be on the verge of destruction. I’ll never find rest or peace. I’ll never gain the freedom I’m meant to have, through Jesus. I need to get better at figuring out which wounds are able to heal and which aren’t, and accept them. I’ve got three weeks off now, and am kind of angry about it – I want to get through and over this, and this just draws it out for another few weeks, but there’s nothing I can do, and it’s no-ones fault. Must learn patience etc.

I’ve got lost of positives to focus on this week – I’m meeting a doctor I really respect to talk about this extra project, and on Friday it’s the learning disability church group I help with – I’ve missed the last few meetings due to exams, and am really looking forward to seeing them all, they’re so easy to love, and it’s always a real boost to my faith, if only because who doesn’t feel close to God after dressing up in a sheet to act out one of the Parables, as Jesus, to help someone understand more about who he was? The week can only get better.

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